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The differences between dietitians and nutritionists can be downright confusing: All registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. The common certification of registered dietitian nutritionist, RDN, is only given to those who have completed dietitian requirements. Meanwhile, nutritionists can work without any formal certification. There are several specialities within the occupations, including clinical dieticians and nutritionists, who provide medical nutrition therapy; community dieticians and nutritionists, who develop programs and counsel the public on food and nutrition; and management dietitians and nutritionists, who plan meal programs in food service settings such as cafeterias and hospitals. Those with extensive experience or insight may serve as consultants to clients and organizations. Dieticians and nutritionists are similar to other health care practitioners in that they use scientific methods to draw conclusions and evaluate results. Their offices may be filled with guides and posters about health and food choices. Dietitians and nutritionists must be assertive, since they work with patients to alter their eating habits.
The growing number of health-conscious parents, as well as increased national attention on the heightened numbers of obese Americans and skyrocketing health care costs should keep this profession growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 14,200 new openings and employment growth of more than 21 percent for dieticians and nutritionists between 2012 and 2022.
These professionals earned a median salary of $55,240 in 2012, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent earned more than $77,590, while the bottom 10 percent brought in less than $34,500. In 2012, dietitians and nutritionists who worked in Bethesda, Md., took home the biggest paychecks, earning an average of $98,500 – almost $20,000 more than those in the second-highest paying metropolitan area, Vallejo, Calif.
The majority of dietitians and nutritionists have a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, clinical nutrition or a related area, and many professionals in this field have an advanced degree. Critical coursework includes nutrition, psychology, chemistry and biology. Dieticians and nutritionists usually undergo several hundred hours of supervised training through internships and school programs. Most states require licenses for dietitians and nutritionists, although some only require state registration or certification. (A few states have no regulations on this profession.) Many dieticians earn the Registered Dietician Nutritionist credential, which requires candidates to have a bachelor’s degree and complete a dietetic internship program. Nutritionists may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist certification, and other certifications are available from the Commission on Dietetic Registration for specialized practices like sports dietetics or pediatric nutrition.
“Make strong connections if you are in college, grad school and with professionals,” advises Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist, owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, in New York City and U.S. News Eat + Run blogger. “Networking and meeting new people can teach you about what the job is like.” In the interview process, she says you will be asked about your scientific knowledge and how you work with people. It’s important to be familiar with life sciences, chemistry, biochemistry, food science and statistics. The ideal candidate should have passion, be empathic and also be able to translate scientific lingo to laymen’s terms. “You need to use your ears more than your mouth and not be judgmental,” Taub-Dix says. “Instead, you must be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask yourself: ‘What are their goals? What is their budget? And where do they shop?’”
Last updated by Evan Taylor.